How Kerala Congress mastered the art of split and rise

Kerala Congress: an 'organic' party that grew as it split
(From left) R Balakrishna Pillai, T M Jacob, P J Joseph and K M Mani. File photo

Kerala Congress splits as it grows and grows as it splits, late leader K M Mani once said about the party. Those who split away have either withered away or rejoined him. The faction of Mani, who passed away in April this year, was on the one side of all splits. When everyone else switched affiliations, Mani manoeuvered factional feud with poise and made his own Kerala Congress (Mani) a force in Kerala polity.

Kerala Congress’s origin could be traced to a scandal linked to state home minister P T Chacko who was a Congress leader. Chacko died following a heart failure in 1964, soon after his resignation, forcing his associates KM George and R Balakrishna Pillai to form a party -- Kerala Congress -- backed by the Nair Service Society (NSS), the premier organisation of the Nair community in Kerala. George became the party chairman and the fledgling Kerala Congress, which was raised on October 9, 1964 won 26 seats in the 1965 Assembly election.

Pillai and George went to jail during the Emergency (1975-77). On Congress leader Indira Gandhi's persuasion, Kerala Congress decided to join the C Achutha Menon government in Kerala in 1975. Internal bickering started as soon as the one-decade-old party entered doors of power. Mani said one person cannot be party chairman and parliamentary party leader. Since George was the party chairman, Mani went on to become minister on December 26, 1975. Pillai too became minister.

Party fissures widened at this point. Pillai resigned, and George, who stepped in for him, died on June 26, 1976. Pillai alleged George died heartbroken owing to Mani's deceit, worsening the infighting.

How Kerala Congress grew as it split regularly

Congress leader K Karunakaran formed the government in March 1977 as the Emergency ended. He made Mani the home minister and the latter became the Kerala Congress chairman too.

But another Congress leader, A K Antony, replaced Karunakaran as chief minister soon. Mani continued in his position only to lose it with an election case in late 1977. PJ Joseph thus replaced him only to give up the ministerial post for Mani after he won the case the very next year. Joseph bargained for party chairmanship instead. Thus started the split saga and Kerala Congress (Mani) was formed in 1979.

There were two factions – Mani and Joseph -- in the party before George’s death in 1976. Pillai had launched a new party in 1977 following George’s death. Mani aligned with the the UDF in the 1977 election, as Pillai chose the Left. In 1979, Joseph split with Mani to form Kerala Congress (J). Another Kerala Congress leader T M Jacob joined the Joseph group.

How Kerala Congress mastered art of split and rise
PC George left Joseph to form the Kerala Congress (Secular). He patched up with Mani and became vice- chairman of KC(M) later.

When A K Antony group in the Congress moved to the Left in 1980, Mani and Joseph followed. They returned to UDF in 1982 and joined hands with Pillai again. In 1987, the party split again as Mani and Joseph drifted apart but remained in the UDF. Jacob and Mani were together, so did Pillai and Joseph. But in 1989, Pillai formed Kerala Congress (B) splitting away from Joseph.

P C George also joined Joseph as he turned Left in 1989. The Jacob group was formed as he split from Mani in 1993. The Pillai group split in 1995 when Joseph M Puthusseri formed a new party in 1995. Puthusseri joined Mani only to split up again in 2003. PT Chacko's son P C Thomas left Mani faction and formed the Indian Federal Democratic Party (IFDP) and won from the erstwhile Muvattupuzha Lok Sabha seat and become minister in the NDA government of A B Vajpayee. Thomas was the NDA candidate from Kottayam Lok Sabha seat in 2019 polls.

How Kerala Congress grew as it split regularly
Former Finance Minister K M Mani (R) with K Karunakaran, K Sankaranarayanan and R Balakrishna Pillai.

Meanwhile, P C George left Joseph to form the Kerala Congress (Secular). He patched up with Mani and became vice- chairman of KC(M) later. Joseph too joined Mani in 2010 to become party’s working chairman, abandoning the Left in the process. George wanted a ministerial position after 2011. Despite being made chief whip, he rebelled and formed a new party and won as an independent candidate in 2016. George now backs the BJP.

Pillai and son Ganesh Kumar switched sides to join LDF. TM Jacob, who joined Karunakaran’s Democratic Indira Congress (DIC) after being denied ministerial post in first Oommen Chandy government (2004-06), returned to the UDF. He was food and civil supplies minister in the next Chandy government (2011-16). Jacob's son Anoop became minister after the former died in 2011 when he was an MLA.

The final split happened when Francis George took some leaders, including Antony Raju, to the Left. Francis formed the Democratic Kerala Congress in 2016. Though they were with Joseph, the latter refused to join them.

Just before K M Mani's death, a serious crisis was precipitated with Joseph asking for a Lok Sabha candidacy, preferably in Idukki. After taking things to the brink, Joseph yielded, dropped his demand. Joseph, it was said, wanted to stymie the plans of Mani faction to put up Nisha Mani (Jose K Mani's wife) as the KC(M) candidate. The UDF leaders, too, had informally warned Mani against such a move. Finally, the party settled on Thomas Chazhikadan, a close Mani confidante. The KC(M) supremo was shifted to the hospital soon after a semblance of truce was established in the party.

How Kerala Congress mastered art of split and rise
KC(M)'s Kottayam candidate Thomas Chazhikadan, a close Mani confidante.

It was no secret that this was a tenuous one. Post Mani's demise, and as expected, the fight for the party's chairman's post erupted in all fury. Jose K Mani wanted control of the party to be with his family. But Joseph, both as working chairman and a former founder, staked his claim.

The party on Sunday elected Jose K Mani its chairman despite stiff opposition from the faction led by Joseph. Jose K Mani was elected the party chief at a meeting of the party state committee held in Kottayam. Leaders belonging to the Joseph faction did not attend the meeting.

Reacting to the development, Joseph said Jose was elected by "a crowd" and not by the state committee and all of them will be treated as having quit Kerala Congress (M). The decision would not sustain in law as it was taken by "violating" all norms of the party constitution, he charged. Hours ahead of the meeting, the faction led by Joseph declared it as 'invalid' and said it was against the party constitution. However, extending an olive branch, he said those who rectify their 'mistakes' can come back to the party fold.

How Kerala Congress mastered art of split and rise
Post Mani's demise, Jose K Mani wanted control of the party to be with his family. But Joseph, both as working chairman and a former founder, staked his claim.

With both sides unwilling to concede an inch, the two factions seem to have no choice but to part ways.

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